This is not just any ordinary engraved tablet you’d find at the back of a dusty museum. Teams of archaeologists in Turkey have been looking at this ancient engraving and believe it's actually a marriage contract, containing insights into divorce and sacred prostitutes along with the earliest known references to infertility and surrogate parenting.
The 4,000-year-old Assyrian baked clay tablet was originally unearthed at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Kültepe-Kanesh in Turkey’s central Kayseri province. The tablet features small illustrations and a wealth of text written in cuneiform script, an early system of writing first developed by the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia.
According to new research detailed in the medical journal Gynecological Endocrinology, this text describes the marriage of a man and woman known as Laqipum and Hatala. As part of their agreement, it says the husband could employ the help of a surrogate mother if the couple failed to conceive a baby two years after the date of marriage.
These surrogate mothers were actually female slaves or “sacred prostitutes” known as hierodules. Bizarrely, there is some evidence that both male and female prostitution occurred in religious temples of numerous cultures through antiquity.
"The female slave would be freed after giving birth to the first male baby and ensuring that the family is not left without a child," said Professor Ahmet Berkız Turp from Harran University's Gynecology and Obstetrics Department, according to the Daily Sabah.
In this particular culture, monogamy was the normal practice. It's thought this system of surrogacy and hierodules was a means of maintaining marriages even if infertility complications arose. Furthermore, infertility was not an acceptable grounds for divorce in ancient Assyria.
According to the study, the rest of the script reads: “Should Laqipum choose to divorce her, he must pay [her] five minas of silver – and should Hatala choose to divorce him, she must pay (him) five minas of silver. Witnesses: Masa, Ashurishtikal, Talia, Shupianika.”
This means the tablet also serves a bit like a marriage contract and a prenuptial agreement, outlining the issue of finances should a divorce occur.
The tablet is currently on display at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Almost 25,000 cuneiform tablets and texts have been discovered alongside this particular tablet at the site in Kültepe-Kanesh since excavations started in 1948.